Six Kinds of Noodles
By Stephen Burt
You would have to have been reading John Ashbery
to have seen anything like this in a book,
and yet here it is in real life:
an almost already intelligible tangle
of verities, and an intimidating menu,
disfigured, almost, by all the things you can have
at once, though all are noodles. Have
you, too, been trying to keep up with John Ashbery?
Every time I check there's another new book,
another entry—entrée—on the menu
from which I seem to have ordered my whole life,
and been served somebody else's. Don't tangle
with waiters here is my advice; the rectangle
of mirrorlike soy sauce, the soba you have to have
and the udon you lack should suffice: the secret of life—
as you might have sought, or discovered, in Ashbery—
is what you get while you are waiting. Men, you
see, are mortal, and live to end up in a book,
though once you compiled and published such a book,
who would be left to read it? The latest angle
claims that it would be more like a menu,
an ashen, Borgesian checklist of all you could have
or have had to pay for, or suffer, or notice. Ashbery
could write that (I think it's in Flow Chart). And yet the life
we long for in all its disorder is not a life
of so many tastes, nor of fame; more like one good book,
and ginger with which to enjoy it. Jeffrey Skinner's poem entitled "John Ashbery"
and David Kellogg's "Being John Ashbery" both take the angle
that eminence is what matters. No. We have
had enough of fighting over the menu,
as if it were the main course; the omen you
seek, the bitter-lime tang of a happy life
to come, curls up amid the semolina or buckwheat you have
not chosen yet. Will it be prepared by the book?
Will it do for Kitchen Stadium? Its newfangle-
ness may be a virtue, Iron Chef Chen Kenichi, Auden, and Ashbery
all suggest, though hard to find here without help from Ashbery:
it's a problem with which I have tangled all my life,
and I'm so hungry I could eat a book, though none are listed on this menu.
From Jennifer Grotz's review of Burt's Parallel Play in The Washington Post Book World the Sunday before last (article here). "In developmental psychology, the term 'parallel play' describes how very young children will play next to each other yet not together. It's an apt title for Stephen Burt's second collection of poems: Many of his subjects seem to know that they belong to a community but feel utterly separate within it," Grotz writes. "One of the recurring surprises in Parallel Play is the breadth of Burt's fascination with contemporary culture...one gleans an earnest desire to make poems out of the flotsam and jetsam of American life." Burt writes about Senator Paul Wellstone, Kitty Pryde, WNBA player Lindsay Whalen; another is titled "Scenes from Next Week's Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Grotz calls the poem above "an irresistible sestina that meditates on the work of John Ashbery and the function of contemporary poetry in the backdrop of an Asian noodle shop."
The pollen and the front coming through have conspired to give me a nasty headache so I am having trouble concentrating tonight (the drugs are staving off the headache but have me sort of blurry). I managed to do some serious desk cleanup, sort old bills, write news bullets and an article on Chase Masterson's upcoming sci-fi noir film, get the kids from the bus stop home and then to Hebrew school, and have a very strange conversation with a woman from WGBH, the Boston PBS station, which somehow had my name and number in their database as someone who did voiceover work because I once did a stint for a BBC film crew who tracked me down at AnotherUniverse.com for a special on supernatural events in Washington, DC, Conspiracies: Hidden Places -- I thought, and they thought at the time, that they wanted an expert on The X-Files and sites from the series, though the documentary ended up being more about the Masons and supernatural American history and I was only in it for a couple of minutes. The woman at WGBH was looking for voiceover work for some PBS documentaries, though given my limited experience, I don't think she'll be calling me very soon!
Boston Legal was even more crack than usual this week, but Alan called Denny his lover to a woman he was hitting on -- well, to assist on a case -- so how could I not love it? And really, who could not love any hour of television which starts with William Shatner's psychiatrist calling him a silver spoon-fed sack who should take up yoga so he can learn to stick his head up his ass while Shatner is going on about how everything he wants to express in life is bottled up in him like a kidney stone? Denny agrees that he is a sad sack and admits he's thought about killing himself, even carries a gun in case he decides to do it, but it would be so banal. Fine, says the therapist, Sidney Field...shoot me, then I get to die and my son gets to pay for his Harvard education with my insurance policy that precludes suicide. Then he pulls a gun on Denny, and Denny shoots him in self-defense! Which could get him fired because there's a clause in the partnership agreement (as Paul explains to Shirley) that says Denny is out if he commits a felony, which is what he's charged with, and who's going to believe the guy who shot a homeless man with a paintball gun and his own client in the kneecaps? Denny of course defends his carrying and using a gun, explaining that he has a constitutional right to bear arms that the Supreme Court will reaffirm as soon as they finish overturning Roe v Wade.
Meanwhile, Alan is busy with a case where a black man was arrested for refusing to identify himself while gawking at expensive houses in a white neighborhood. He gets an old friend, Shalina, to help him with the defense, partly because she's black and partly because he thinks she can appeal to the jury's idealism even though the man is guilty of a crime under the current laws that say the police can demand identification from anyone for any reason, whether it's looking like a terrorist because you sort of appear Middle Eastern or "driving while black" in L.A. Shalina keeps reminding Alan that they kissed the last time they worked together, which makes Melissa jealous -- she warns Alan that she's putting the sex they have not yet had in jeopardy ("Don't fall for her, Alan, she's just a guest star"). But Alan is too distracted worrying about Denny to fret overmuch about the sex he's not having with anyone but "my lover," as he describes Denny to Shalina. Denny visits the doctor in the hospital with Alan to try to get the charges dropped -- only to find Sidney reading an issue of Trout with the plight of the Pacific salmon on the cover -- but the charges stick. And they get stuck with the poopycock judge who hates jibber-jabber and thinks Alan talks too much.
Shalina gets the black guy off by reciting Martin Luther King, Jr., hoping that the jury will judge her client as the police should have, not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character...it's a great moment, an Alan moment, as she repeats the prosecutor's words about how some profiling is necessary to make people feel safe, how there's no longer stigma in discriminating. Alan is very concerned that he won't be able to do the same for Denny, given Denny's history of shooting people -- not a big leap for a jury to think he plugged his therapist. Denny talks about how we're so desensitized to guns, "I laughed when I heard the Vice President mistook his friend for a bird." Alan says he was he only one. To think that for five minutes Denny swears off guns forever...he almost killed Sidney, after all, and Sidney was a Republican! But Sidney is really nuts and pulls a gun in the courtroom...and Denny shoots him again, thus saving the judge, who agrees to let Denny go with a warning in which he tells Denny never to do it again.
Meanwhile, a few offices over, Brad is confessing to Denise that girls keep dumping him because he's a terrible kisser when he just does what everyone else does: presses lips, sticks his tongue in and swishes it around a little. Denise says this does not sound so good. At first Brad tries giving up women and asks Alan if he wants to hang out with the guys, but Alan protests that any gathering of three or more men is like a team to him and he has never been good at teams. Then Brad asks if he's a good kisser, and Alan flees. Trying to be helpful, Denise offers verbal pointers and then demonstrates, and it turns out that Brad is a very fast learner! Even though he has to get over the fact that he doesn't like it when a woman's tongue goes into his mouth, to which Denise says he needs to drop the homeland security routine. (apaulled and I were howling because Brad, though vastly better looking, reminds us of his post-college roommate who was in law school and utterly terrified of women...also hated the word "vagina.") This ends, of course, with Denise and Brad locking the door, after which she says it was just a kissing demonstration and he says, "We had sex. On the floor. Incredible sex." But since they work together, Denise will not consider doing it again. Waaaah! I am hoping -- and assuming -- that she will get over this quickly.
In the end, on the roof, Denny points out that he is still at large "and don't think I take it for granted" since in any pinko country like Japan, he'd be in jail. He reiterates the idea that all Americans should be armed, since the criminals are and more guns would diminish their power, to which Alan says he's surprised Denny didn't think of this sooner. Denny blames Mad Cow, wanting to know if it's Alzheimer's if he can't remember how many people he shot, but Alan says it only matters if he can't remember who. Then Denny asks how Alan did with Shalina and Melissa and Alan has to explain that the only sex was theoretical. He asks how come his "lover" never introduced him to his therapist. "A man never introduces his wife to his mistress," Denny tells him. Alan says that's a shame -- it would make for a hell of a party. Which Sidney would agree with, since in the courtroom while he was waving the gun around and shouting accusations, he insisted that Alan was really Denny's therapist...the person he told all his secrets. Awwww.
One of these days I will catch up on comments, really.